“I don’t see why the Internet is important to me” said Maggie, the first caller to our “is the Internet the ultimate consumer’s revenge “ radio program.
Maggie’s question is a very good one at a time when governments, businesses and households are investing heavily in Internet technology. Just a few hours before the radio show I’d been invited by television program A Current Affair, to discuss if Australia’s 43 billion dollar investment in a National Broadband Network is worthwhile.
For Maggie and ACA’s viewers, the answer is “yes, it is very important” — the Internet today is what the motor car was to the early 20th Century and railways were to the 19th Century. Communities that aren’t connected will miss the benefits of the 21st Century economy.
To illustrate how important it will be, let’s have a look at Maggie’s life. We’ll assume she’s an older person living in a regional Australian town or one of the fast growing fringe suburbs of a big city.
Probably the most immediate change the Internet delivers for Maggie is how it is giving her a stronger voice as a consumer and citizen. This is what we discussed on the ABC program, how Internet tools like social media are giving customers and voters their voices back.
With reliable broadband Maggie can be researching products and voicing her dissatisfaction with government and private organisations to the world in a way that would have been impossible a few years ago.
Those Internet tools also growing communities around her as like minded people across the world and in her own district are connecting online then meeting in real life at events like Coffee Mornings.
Not only does the Internet connect communities, it connects families — one lady recently described to me how she speaks more to her daughter living in Brazil through Skype than she did when they lived nearby. The net brings friends and families back together and helps overcome social isolation.
Exclusion in education has always been a pressing issue, once upon a time you had to be in Cambridge or Oxford to access the world’s great minds. With a fast reliable Internet connection, the kids in Maggie’s neighbourhood can listen to a Harvard or MIT professor’s lecture without leaving their hometown.
Bringing knowledge to local communities will also help Maggie should she have to have to go to the local hospital, the local doctors will be able to consult specialists without Maggie having to travel long distances to get specialist advice.
Importantly for Maggie and her local hospital, the access to online training resources mean the local staff will be up to date with their professional development and across new trends, ensuring Maggie’s standard of care will be equal to the big city teaching hospitals.
Solving staff training issues also delivers benefits for the local business community. It means the Maggie’s son Tim, the owner of a local plumbing business, doesn’t have to pay for expensive training courses or to travel into town to attend business conferences.
The net also means Tim can access the world’s best business minds without leaving his office. Which gives him benefit of running his business more efficiently and profitably.
For Tim’s kids, it also means they aren’t excluded from the entertainment world. They can stream and download the latest things happening and share equally on social networking sites. They may be in a small town, but they can play in the big world.
Having these education, business, training and entertainment resources strengthens communities. It means kids and entrepreneurs can live in their home towns and still participate in the global economy. It means Maggie is a valued and important citizen of her country and the world.
Fast accessible Internet is more than important, it’s vital just in the ways roads, railways, canals and the telegraph were in their eras. The investment in these freeways of the future is necessary to grow strong and dynamic communities.